Tuesday, August 18, 2015
A short piece in The Berkeley Journal of Sociology titled, "The Theology of Consensus" considers the historical roots and practical limitations of a group decision-making practice common among left-wing activist groups, such as Occupy Wall Street. Among its conclusions about the latter:
In practice, ... the process was fraught with difficulty from the start. At the 1977 Seabrook blockade, where consensus was first employed in a large-scale action setting, the spokescouncil spent nearly all the time before being ordered to leave the site bogged down in lengthy discussions of minor issues. A similar dynamic played out in Occupy Wall Street almost a quarter century later, where the general assembly proved ill-equipped to address the day-to-day needs of the encampment. Though On Conflict and Consensus assured organizers that "Formal Consensus is not inherently time-consuming," experience suggested otherwise. The process favored those with the most time, as meetings tended to drag out for hours; in theory, consensus might include everyone in all deliberations, but in practice, the process greatly favored those who could devote limitless time to the movement -- and made full participation difficult for those with ordinary life commitments outside of their activism.The theological roots of the practice, which is an attempt to gain a woozy "feel" for some divinely-imparted truth, point to another, more fundamental weakness: Emotions are not tools of cognition. Even if this process did not empower cranks and provocateurs, its emotionalist underpinnings make a decision that is actually grounded in reality impossible, and one that seems reasonable a coincidence.